Here’s Why Aglaonema Pictum Tricolor Is So Rare – The Dark Side Of Houseplant Collecting

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Aglaonema pictum tricolor is one of those weird plants that goes through surges of availability, and seems to vary in price a LOT.

It’s extremely popular, because the leaves look like camouflage. It’s amazing they managed to find any in the first place (lolololol).

I don’t have one, so this article will be somewhat image-less but I have my reasons.

The first one is that they tend to go for £100+, which is less than I care to spend on my plants. The second reason I don’t have an Aglaonema Pictum tricolor is that there was a surge in collecting them from the wild during the pandemic, and now there’s only a few left.

They do look VERY cool, but they’re also one of those plants that by their very nature spend a lot of the year looking a bit crap, so coupled with the price and the consequences of poaching, I’d prefer something like a Dieffenbachia reflector.

Why is Aglaonema pictum tricolor so rare?

They’re difficult to access in the wild

Not only do they grow at a very specific altitude in a pretty specific part of Sumatra, but there was also a spate of poaching. I can see why these plants are so popular – the leaves look so much like camouflage that you’d think they were painted on. Buuuut it’s not worth losing them in the wild.

They’re slow growing

In my experience, Aglaonema grown in perfect conditions for them to grow pretty slowly.

I’ve had them grow quickly in brighter light and lower humidity, but the growth was…fine, but not are large or well-coloured.

I currently have a couple of pink ones growing in the terrarium, and though we’ve only had a couple of new leaves in the last few months, they’re large and have gotten a lot brighter than the original leaves that, er, came with the plant.

I’m gonna make the assumption that if you try to force Aglaonema pictum tricolor to grow faster, the cool pattern won’t be as apparent, and you may as well be selling a similar aglaonema, such as this one:

They’re variegated

Variegated plants grow more slowly than non-variegated ones, because the white parts don’t contain any chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is necessary to facilitate photosynthesis, which is the plant gets the energy to grow. Less green = less energy.

They can be tricky to grow

I alluded to them being a bit diva-ish, and whilst I don’t have any experience, they’re well known for being difficult to grow.

The conditions they need are no different from other aglaonema – higher but not ridiculous humidity, warm-ish temperatures and consistently moist soil BUT their leaves don’t seem to last as long. Consequently, they don’t grow as bushy as other aglaonema do – they’re more of a one stick, spindly deal.

Even people who find them easy to grow admit that they do NOT like winter, and look a bit sad and straggly for about eight months of the year.

Why is Aglaonema pictum tricolor so expensive?

Sourcing is an issue

There was a big deal made about the poaching (and rightly so), so a lot of people avoid them completely. They can be reproduced using tissue culture, but it doesn’t really seem to have caught on in a big way.

I thought this was a bit…weird, so I did a bit of research. There actually wasn’t a lot of information about them = it seems like the plant community are trying to stay away until there’s an ethical route to getting them.

This was strange because there are tissue-cultured specimens available, but it seems that for some reason the variegation isn’t quite the same. For some reason, it doesn’t come out as camouflage-y. Which is kind of the whole point.

Demand is high

I mean, they just look so damn cool, so there’s a market for people outside of the house plant community – interior designers for example.

And I think demand is always going to remain high, because they’re SO rare and the tissue cultured ones don’t have the same desirability.

It’s actually a bit of a nightmare because that could potentially mean there’s a still a market for the poachers* – selling to people that don’t know that they’re being taken from the wild.

*A lot of people don’t see the issue here, because originally the sellers were locals that needed the money.

Whilst it’s not ideal, it’s 100% understandable and I’m not standing between someone’s desire to feed their children and a plant BUT I’m pretty sure that once it became apparent their was a market for them, the locals were pushed aside and the professional poachers moved in.

Healthy specimens are few and far between

This is another one – it can be difficult to source a plant if the sellers want to wait until the plant looks good (people obvs pay more for a healthy specimen than one that looks like it’s gone three rounds with Mike Tyson).

Sooo if the plant only looks good for a few months of the year that not only limits their availability BUT the sellers have to increase their prices to cover the costs of taking care of a plant that isn’t currently sellable (and cover the costs of the ones that don’t make the journey to the buyer).

Alternatives to Aglaonema Pictum tricolor

Ok, so technically the Fatsia is an outdoor plant, but it looked so cool that I couldn’t leave it off.

  • Homalomena wallisii
syngonium mottles
  • Fatsia camouflage
  • Dieffenbachia camouflage
  • Dieffenbachia reflector
  • Syngonium mottled

I have a syngonium mottled, and it’s a cool plant. It’s definitely not camouflage, because to look most authentic it needs to be quite sectoral variegation, but it still looks cool (and only costs about £30).

Aglaonema pictum tricolor tissue culture

As I said before, there are a few people selling tissue cultured Aglaonema pictum tricolor, but for some reason, the variegation isn’t quite what it should be. This could change in future, so watch this space!

Also, there seems to be a massive variation in price when you look at places like Etsy, which generally means that someone somewhere is doing something a bit scammy. Remember that if it seems too good to be true it probably is and that a good seller will be able to provide you with photos of the actual plant you’re getting so you don’t get any nasty surprises.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

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